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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[G.R. No. L-14887. January 31, 1961. ]

AVELINO NATIVIDAD, Petitioner, v. COURT OF APPEALS, ET AL., Respondents.

Eustacio C. Cuevas and Nicetas A. Suanes for Petitioner.

Solicitor General for Respondent.


SYLLABUS


1. THEFT; ELECTRIC CURRENT; MISREADING OF ELECTRIC METER. — The consumer of electric current who evades payment of part of his accounts by using a "jumper" to deflect the current from the house electric meter, is guilty of theft. The situation does not differ when the meter reader of the Meralco, in accordance with a previous understanding with the consumer, misreads the electric meter so as to decrease the amount which said consumer has to pay.


D E C I S I O N


BENGZON, J.:


Avelino Natividad and Fermin Villanueva were charged with theft of electric current, in the Manila court of first instance. They were convicted. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of the first, but acquitted Villanueva.

Hence this petition for review, which is mainly based on the proposition that as both accused had been prosecuted for having conspired to steal electric current, the exoneration of one should entail the acquittal of the other.

According to the Court of Appeals, "in 1949, appellant Villanueva established a laundry business at 159-A Padilla St., San Miguel, Manila, under the title of Majestic Steam Laundry and Dry Cleaners. The electric energy needed for its operation was supplied by the Manila Electric Company which, on December 5, 1949, installed in Villanueva’s establishment the new electric meter exhibit A. . . .Appellant Villanueva regularly paid for his electric consumption upon presentation of the corresponding bills, which steadily increased in amount from P112.00 and P116.00 for the first and second months (January 10 to February 8 and thence to March 9, 1950), until the 17th month (May 10 to June 9, 1951) when the amount paid was P248.00 (Exhs. H-1 and 3-Villanueva). Spurred by reports that "electric current all over Manila were being tampered by a person named Manuel Arboleda" and that Majestic Steam Laundry and Dry Cleaners was one of the places visited by him, and because the value of the electric current consumed by this laundry establishment in June and July, 1951, dropped abruptly to P176.00 and P186.00, respectively (Exhs. H-1 and 3-Villanueva), Manila Electric Company ordered the removal of meter exhibit A from appellant Villanueva’s establishment and its substitution with another meter. Exhibit A was removed on August 30, 1951. . . .And after the removal of the meter’s glass cover, Tanyag, Mayor and Cayco (employees of Meralco) noticed that the mounting screws of the register show scratches, and they readily presumed and concluded "that the register had been detached from the meter which I (Cayco) believe turning back the reading of the meter."cralaw virtua1aw library

"The electric current consumption registered by exhibit A from August 9 to August 20, 1951 when it was removed, was 6980; and that as shown by the substitute meter, from the latter date up to September 8, was 1660, or a total of 8,640 KWH the value of which — P478.00 . . . ."cralaw virtua1aw library

"When he was investigated by the Manila Police, Natividad denied having tampered with the electric meter in question; but on November 9, 1951, he appeared before Attorney C. S. Van Hoven of complainant’s legal department, who took Natividad’s affidavit which was signed and sworn to before Attorney Pastor S. del Rosario of the same department on February 26, 1952 (Exh. G) . . .wherein he admitted that for the consideration of P150.00 which his co-appellant Villanueva promised to pay him and his companions, he (Natividad) agreed to tamper with exhibit A in order to reduce Villanueva’s electric bill, and that on July 10, 1951, instead of actually reading the meter he merely recorded 130 as the reading, which is very much lower than the previous reading of 202 . . . ."cralaw virtua1aw library

"The evidence is clear and convincing that he has not recorded the true and correct reading of Villanueva’s meter but instead made a false reading to reduce the amount to be paid by Villanueva to Meralco for his current, and in addition he (Natividad) also personally tampered with the meter."cralaw virtua1aw library

It will be observed that the gist of the crime was that in accordance with a previous understanding with consumer Villanueva, this appellant Natividad 1 meter-reader of the Meralco — misread the electric meter so as to decrease the amount which such consumer had to pay, and paid, to the owner of the electric current, the Meralco.

According to the appellate court, Natividad knowingly "under- read" the electric meter in Villanueva’s premises and falsely reported the readings during the period from June 9 to July 10, 1951, and from July 10 to August 9, 1951, thereby enabling Villanueva to appropriate, for nothing, about 11,880 electric kilowatt hours valued at P594.00. Meralco was thus pro tanto deprived of its property through the connivance of this employee. As to such connivance and deprivation there can be no doubt, because the petitioner himself so confessed in an affidavit.

The resulting situation does not materially differ from the case of U. S. v. Carlos, 21 Phil. 553, wherein the consumer of electric current having managed to evade payment of part of his accounts by using the so-called "jumper" to deflect the current from the house electric meter, was held by this Court to be guilty of theft.

Contrary to petitioner’s contention, the acquittal of Villanueva did not necessarily mean that no electric current had been taken away gratis. There was a factual finding of such larceny by the Court of Appeals, which we are not at liberty to disturb. Anyway, the acquittal rested on the lack of proof that Villanueva had tampered with the electric meter to conceal the crime. The offense was already committed when Villanueva paid his bills (reduced) for July and August. 2 And herein petitioner admitted such bills and payment accorded with his "under-reading."cralaw virtua1aw library

If it be argued that, without such tampering, the theft could not have been "consummated" because sooner or later, the true consumption will be discovered and the consumer will be made to pay accordingly, the answer is, there are other ways of concealing the swindle or of evading payment of the unreported fluid consumption.

We must, therefore, affirm the conviction; and as there is no question raised concerning the penalty, 3 the judgment of the appellate court is hereby affirmed, with costs.

Paras, C.J., Padilla, Bautista Angelo, Labrador, Concepcion, Reyes, J.B.L., Barrera and Paredes, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:



1. Article 1358 (1), new Civil Code; article 1280 (I). old Civil Code.

2. He was paid money for it.

3. Cf. U.S. v. Tambunting, 41 Phil. 364.

4. 6 years and 1 day to 9 years and 4 months of prision mayor, plus indemnity of P594.00.

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